Facebook Twitter

Deficit-cutting plan picks up 2 Republicans

SHARE Deficit-cutting plan picks up 2 Republicans

WASHINGTON — Two of the Senate's most conservative Republicans on Thursday swung behind a deficit-slashing plan whose politically painful spending cuts include raising the retirement age. Their backing gives the proposal from leaders of President Barack Obama's debt commission momentum as it heads for a vote.

The support from Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho means the controversial plan to cut the deficit by almost $4 trillion over the coming decade is likely to win a majority of the panel's 18 members Friday.

It is still likely to fall short of the 14 votes needed to send it to Congress for consideration. Nonetheless, lawmakers on both sides of the plan view it as a first step in debt-control efforts that may dominate next year's agenda.

The panel's deliberations have been remarkably devoid of politics, and the bipartisan support for the deficit commission's plan lays out a marker for any serious future debt control effort.

"It's the memo that controls the meeting," said panel member Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., also a supporter.

"The time for action is now," Coburn and Crapo said in a statement. "This plan will not just avert a disaster, but help drive the kind of economic recovery we need to create jobs and spur growth."

Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson released the plan Wednesday. It's heavy with politically painful spending curbs such as increasing the Social Security retirement age and reducing future increases to benefits. It also contains a radical overhaul of the tax code that eliminates or scales back lucrative tax breaks in exchange for rate cuts on corporate and income taxes.

Among other things, the plan would scale back several popular tax credits and deductions, including the child tax credit, the mortgage interest deduction and the deduction claimed by employers who provide health insurance. Income tax rates would, in turn, be significantly lowered, with the top rate dropping from 35 percent to 28 percent and the top rate for taxpayers making up to $210,000 dropping from 28 percent to 22 percent. It would raise the gas tax 15 cents a gallon to fund transportation programs.

The plan opened to catcalls from advocates on the left — over cuts to Social Security and other programs — and the right, who oppose the fact it's estimated to produce almost $1 trillion in higher tax revenues over the coming decade.

Coburn and Crapo said that if lawmakers fail to act now, they will have to face far more painful choices than those proposed by the panel.

"If we do not take actions, the tax increases that this Congress will face — and probably have to pass — are far greater than any kind of arguable tax increase in this bill," Crapo said.

They said the tax overhaul is likely to spur economic growth that would add even more revenues to federal coffers. They compared it to the 1986 tax reforms sponsored by Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

The plan endorses tax brackets of 12 percent, 21 percent and 28 percent to replace brackets of 15 percent, 28 percent and 35 percent.

The announcement by Coburn and Crapo means that nine of the 18 commissioners have publicly endorsed the plan. House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., says he is leaning in favor.

But it takes 14 members to officially approve the measure for a vote in Congress. That requirement was designed to require any plan achieve consensus among Democrats and Republicans.

That still seems out of reach, but Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, is weighing an aye vote. He raised eyebrows when he endorsed raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 69 over the coming 65 years.

But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., came out against the plan Thursday. Two other House Republicans appear opposed, as is liberal Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.